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21 December 2022

Wes Streeting’s comments on health unions were “blatantly untrue”, says deputy BMA chair

Emma Runswick told the New Statesman Podcast that the shadow health secretary was misleading voters in an attempt to “appear tough”.

By Zoë Grünewald

The deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), Dr Emma Runswick, has called the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting’s concerns regarding the BMA “disappointing”, and has criticised his comments that there is a “something-for-nothing culture” in the health service.

Speaking on the New Statesman Podcast, to be released on Thursday 22 December, Runswick said: “I think Wes Streeting is looking to appear serious by appearing tough, but being tough and mean and making blatantly untrue comments is not a way to appear serious. The way to appear serious is to have solutions for problems and we’ve got multiple concerns about his solutions at the minute.”

Earlier in December, Streeting was accused of sparking “war with the health unions”, after he criticised the “something-for-nothing culture” in the health service. “Given that we have committed to more staff, I cannot for the life of me understand why the BMA is so hostile to the idea that with more staff must come better standards for patients,” Streeting told the Daily Telegraph.

“Whenever I point out the appalling state of access to primary care, where currently a record two million people are waiting more than a month to see a GP, I am treated like some sort of heretic by the BMA – who seem to think any criticism of patient access to primary care is somehow an attack on GPs.”

Streeting accused the BMA of being out of touch after a vote last month by GPs in England to cut surgeries’ core opening hours to 9am to 5pm. Streeting said it “look[s] like they’re living on a different planet and, worst of all, aren’t really thinking about the best interests of patients”.

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Runswick said that many of Streeting’s proposals, including recruiting new staff, was “not a serious plan for fixing the problems in the NHS now, it’s not even a serious plan for fixing the problems in the NHS in ten years”.

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She said that there were “loads of problems” with simply recruiting more staff, as training capacity remains a real issue. “We haven’t got the capacity in universities or in clinical placement systems for the number of medical students that he’s looking for. We haven’t got the number of academics we would need. We haven’t got the physical space in lecture theatres or in anatomy labs.” Runswick also said that problems retaining staff was affecting postgraduate training.

Runswick confirmed that the BMA had written to the shadow health secretary about its concerns.

“We would love to talk about those issues with the opposition. We would absolutely love to talk about solving retention problems and making sure we’ve got increased capacity in the future… Our doors are open. We want to be inputted into policies. We want to be helping because we all want our health service to be better and provide good care to patients. We all want to be in a situation where we’re not short-staffed.”

[See also: How can the NHS strikes be resolved?]

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